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Do I Need a Cover Letter? Are Cover Letters Necessary in 2023?

It can be tempting to think that with the life sciences sector currently very much a job seeker’s market, a cover letter is not necessary to secure an interview for that role you’ve just spotted. In some senses, you could be right. Life sciences firms are desperately trying to fill the gaps in their workforces and anyone with relevant experience and an interest in the position has a reasonable chance of being invited to interview.

However, if you really want a particular position, and feel that it would further your career or that you could make a difference to the hiring organisation, a cover letter offers you the opportunity to express those sentiments and to stand out from the crowd.

The purpose of a cover letter

A cover letter is valuable in a number of contexts. It enables you to explain anything that your CV doesn’t cover. It provides space for you to articulate what elements of the role, function or firm excite you or attract you to the position. It provides a vehicle in which you can explain precisely why your background, experience or interest makes you the ideal candidate. This is particularly valuable if you have not worked in the sector before but have transferable skills that the hiring organisation needs. For example, if you are applying to a biotech startup and have experience in bidding for funding to launch new projects or specific experience in pitching ideas to venture capital investors, this experience may be relevant and should be highlighted.

A cover letter also provides an opportunity to explain why you are looking to change fields, relocate or simply move jobs. You should always mention in a cover letter if you have a personal connection to the company or its clients, even if it is unlikely to constitute a conflict of interest. This demonstrates that you are honest and transparent. In some circumstances, a personal connection will be seen as a positive and could increase your chances of being invited to an interview. This is especially true if you have been referred to the position by an existing employee or a member of the board.

Some recruiters will use a cover letter to differentiate between two candidates with CVs that demonstrate equal levels of experience and qualifications. They will tend to lean towards the candidate who has made the extra effort in their cover letter. For this reason, if you intend to submit a cover letter with your application, make it a strong one. Take the time to research the post for which you have applied and tailor your cover letter accordingly.

When should you submit a cover letter?

If an application portal offers the opportunity to upload a cover letter, you should take it. There is no need to create expansive prose, as your CV will be the primary point of reference regarding your qualifications and career history. However, a few short paragraphs that are specifically tailored to the role and organisation in the context of your skills and aspirations will demonstrate to a recruiter that you can follow instructions and write succinctly and persuasively.

You should always submit a cover letter if you are looking to change industry or move to a different field of study. This is particularly relevant if you are applying to early stage European biotech companies that will often be seeking a very different skill set than that required by an established or public sector life sciences organisation. For early stage firms, candidates with the ability to apply skills assimilated in different sectors will be valuable in driving innovation and diversity in the workforce. Businesses that are in scaleup mode will need candidates with strong organisational and financial management skills, in addition to those who are specialists in a life sciences discipline.

When you should NOT submit a cover letter

There are really only two reasons why you should not submit a cover letter with your application. The first is that you don’t have the time or the inclination to tailor one for the position for which you are applying. A poor cover letter is worse than no cover letter. In this scenario, you should probably question whether you should submit your application at all. If you are already feeling nonchalant about the position, it may not be the right fit for you. Recruiters will take the time to read every CV that they receive and to submit an application for a role that simply doesn’t inspire you is arguably a waste of everyone’s time and may exclude you from a more appealing position at the same organisation in the future.

The second reason is far simpler. You are either specifically instructed not to, or the application portal doesn’t provide the functionality to upload one. In both cases, submitting a cover letter will not demonstrate your initiative. It may, instead, lead the recruiter to question your ability to follow instructions.

In conclusion

2023 is just a number. The need to submit a cover letter remains as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. The only difference now is that cover letters are typically submitted electronically as part of the application process. As such, they should be submitted in the format requested, and in the absence of a specified format, select one that is easy to download – either Word or PDF. It should go without saying that your cover letter must be free from spelling and grammatical errors.

Speak with one of our Life Science Recruitment Specialists today if you want advice on your CV and cover letter. Book a consultation.

If you found this insight interesting, we recommend reading 10 Tips on How to Craft a Perfect Resume

ScaleX Consulting offer trusted business consulting and recruitment services to life sciences and biotech companies, ready to take the next step in their journey, particularly with life science recruitment, sales and marketing.